Cobb County 16-year-old Sage Lovell made history Friday, becoming the first transgender student named to a high school homecoming court in Georgia.
Wearing a formal dress and heels with her light brown hair perfectly coifed, Lovell and other students elected to the court were recognized during the Walton High School homecoming game.
Lovell, a junior, was not eligible to be homecoming queen — an honor that only goes to a senior — but her election by fellow students to the court underscores a significant shift in how LGBT students are treated and perceived by their peers and others in Georgia, LGBT advocates say.
“I was so flattered to be chosen to represent my class by my friends, peers,” Lovell said in an interview with AJC this week. “It’s great to have this sort of moment because it tells other young transpeople … you can achieve something that people may tell you you shouldn’t do, it’s not possible, it’s dumb.”
Lovell, who was born with male sex organs but chooses to dress and identify as a woman, joins a small but growing group of transgender students across the U.S. who have been elected to high school homecoming courts in recent years.
Ellen Kahn, a director with the national LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, says at least a dozen transgender students have been elected to homecoming courts in the past year or so. That’s happened recently in Texas and North Carolina.
“Attitudes about gender in general are shifting among younger people,” Kahn said. “A lot of young people don’t necessarily feel that sort of rigid, ‘Girls act this way, dress this way, do these jobs. Boys dress this way, look this way, do these things, have these jobs.’ ”
“We’re seeing that in rural communities and smaller cities and red states and blue states, which I think really speaks to … how different this current generation of young people is when it comes to attitudes around gender.”
Cobb school officials said parents haven’t voiced concerns to them about Sage’s election to the homecoming court.
“In the last 40 years we’ve become a very tolerant society where people tend to find their own path to walk,” said Cobb school board vice chairman Randy Scamihorn. “In this particular case, I think it’s still a local school issue and apparently they’re handling it very well because there’s been no objections or controversy.”
In reaction to Lovell’s selection to the homecoming court, the school district’s chief of staff Angela Huff said in a released statement that Cobb – Georgia’s second-largest school system — is a “richly diverse community of over 110,000 students … proud to be able to offer all students an outstanding educational experience.”
For her part, Lovell says she’s received some critical comments about being transgender but has gotten mainly positive encouragement. “My school’s very accepting, my peers, my parents,” she added. “Everyone is so kind … even if they don’t completely understand. They will at least make an effort to understand what they can, communicate and learn more.”
Lovell says she came to realize sometime in middle school she was gay and “officially kind of came out … in 9th grade.” Since then, she’s “tested the waters to see where I fit in” and moved to define herself as a female: applying make-up, keeping her hair long, wearing dresses and heels. “I have found my niche as a transwoman,” said Lovell. “I am a woman. I wish to be presented as a woman. … That is who I am and want to be.”
Lovell changed her name to Sage after becoming transgender. She declined to say what name she was given at birth because she said it emphasizes the “used to be a man” factor and detracts from “the fact that I am a transwoman now. I am Sage. That is what people call me. That is my name.”
Lovell’s parents, Maureen and Joseph, say they’re proud of their child and have tried to sheild her as much as possible from personal attacks or hate-filled rhetoric.
“I don’t think there was a particular a-ha moment” when Lovell’s father knew Sage was gay and leaning toward becoming transgender, he said. “If you know somebody your whole life, you’re not surprised by anything they say or do. I think that as a parent you always have the desire for your child to have the opportunities you didn’t have … to be themselves and be basically free to express themselves.”
Polling by the Pew Research Center and other surveys show increased support in the U.S. for gay marriage and other LGBT-related issues, particularly among younger people.Today, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, support same-sex marriage, for example, compared with 40 percent who oppose it, according to Pew.
In the South Atlantic region, however, which comprises Florida and Georgia as well as North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, about 45 percent are in favor of gay marriage and 46 percent opposed, according to Pew.
The AJC tried to reach a number of parents and pastors in Cobb for comment about Sage’s homecoming election and did not receive responses.
In light of high-profile suicides of bullied LGBT students in recent years, a number of school districts have adopted stricter anti-bullying policies. Cobb was one of the first school districts in Georgia to implement an anti-bullying, no-harassment policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity.
The number of pro-LGBT organizations known as Gay-Straight Alliances at public high schools has also grown in Georgia, to 43.
“This issue of a transgender student being elected to homecoming court … I don’t know if there will ever be large numbers of students,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, a pro-LGBT advocacy group. Graham says his group is not aware of any other transgender students named to a high school homecoming court in Georgia.
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